This annotated week in baseball history: Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2011

On Jan. 30, 2011 the NFL Pro Bowl was played. Though that football game is Hawaii’s sports highlight, this does not mean the state has not produced baseball players.

Even the biggest football fan would have to admit that the Pro Bowl—the NFL’s All-Star game—is a pretty lame affair. With limited practice time and few true defensive schemes in place, the game tends to be high scoring and hardly representative of the NFL.

Nonetheless, the Pro Bowl is easily the highest profile sporting event in Hawaii each year, with the only real competition being the NCAA’s Hawai’i Bowl, which was played earlier this year.

But the fact that football dominates the widely televised sports in our 50th state does not mean there is no place for baseball. A Hawaiian team won the Little League World Series in 2005 and 2008, and was the runner-up in 2010.

Hawaii’s baseball prowess goes beyond Little Leaguers. The state has produced 36 major leaguers, including four All-Stars. In honor of Hawaii, and in an attempt to prove that a football exhibition is not the only prominent sport to come out of the state, this week we look at the all-Hawaii team.

Players are eligible at any position they played, and the list refers to those players born in Hawaii, rather than those who grew up there.

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki

Catcher is often the hardest spot to fill on these teams, but Hawaii is lucky to have someone like Suzuki. Though not an elite offensive performer—he has never posted an OPS better than league average—Suzuki is still a useful player. And of course, in addition to his talents on the field—which include getting on base at a decent rep and the durability to lead the league in games played at catcher in back-to-back years—we learned this week that Suzuki has pretty good leaping ability.

First base: Kila Ka’aihue

This choice might be based more on potential than actual performance, but (if we’re being honest) this team could use some potential. Right now Ka’aihue has a poor track record at the major league level, hitting just .217 in limited time last season. But he has consistently mashed in the minor leagues—including a 1.060 OPS in Omaha last season—and if the Royals or another team give him a regular job, he is a good candidate to hit in 2011.

Second base: Lenn Sakata

Sakata’s career statistics are at that link on his name, so instead I’m going to tell a story. A middle infielder by trade, Sakata was apparently the Orioles’ emergency catcher, and was forced into that role on Aug. 24, 1983 in a game versus the Blue Jays. After Cliff Johnson hit a home run to give the Jays a 4-3 lead in the top of the 10th, Barry Bonnell singled.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a photo of him wearing a lei (Icon/SMI)

Thinking it would be easy to steal a base with the inexperienced Sakata behind the plate, Bonnell took a big lead, and was promptly picked off by pitcher Tippy Martinez. The next man, Dave Collins, drew a walk. He also took a lead in anticipation of stealing on Sakata. And he also was picked off by Martinez. Finally, Willie Upshaw hit a single. Seeing an infielder crouching behind the plate, Upshaw took his lead thinking second base was virtually guaranteed.

And yes, he was also picked off by Martinez. Astonishingly, the Orioles had retired the side and allowed just one run despite four batters coming to the plate and producing two singles, a walk, and a home run.

Finally, in the bottom of the 10th, Sakata hit a two-run walk-off home run off Randy Moffitt, giving the Orioles the victory.

Shortstop: Keith Luuloa

There is not, in all candor, a lot to be said about Luuloa, other than that he does save us from having a total blank here, since the only other Hawaiian to play short in the majors is Sakata. Luuloa spent six years at Triple-A, never hitting higher than .285. He earned a cup of coffee with the Angels in 2000, but never played in “The Show” again.

Third base: Bronson Sardinha

Yes, I know that Sardinha played not many more games at third base in the major leagues than I have. But the truth is that Hawaiian infielders (excluding first baseman) are few and far between, so we’re forced to make do. And while Sardinha mostly played outfield both in the big leagues and below, he did spend 118 games at third in the minors. And hey, he hit .333 in his cup of coffee for the Yankees in 2007, so perhaps he can surprise.

Left field: Benny Agbayani

Among Hawaiian-born players with 50 or more plate appearances, no one has a higher OPS than Agbayani’s .806. The Honolulu-born left fielder is most fondly remembered by Met fans, who watched him hit .282 across part of four seasons. Doing even more to put Agbayani in the good graces of the Flushing Faithful, he hit a walk-off home run in the 13th inning of Game Three of the 2000 NLDS, and would later drive in the winning run in the Mets’ only victory in that year’s World Series.

Center field: Shane Victorino

Victorino is the best position player to come out of Hawaii. Though he lacks the total numbers accumulated by some—like the man playing next to him in right field—he is an effective combination of speed and power not seen elsewhere on the team. Victorino is a three-time Gold Glove winner in center field, an All-Star and, despite an off-year last season, should still be near his prime for the next couple of seasons.

May I Have Your Autograph, Please?
The payoff of being polite.

Right field: Mike Lum

I had never heard of Lum until I started writing this column, but he dominates the Hawaiian leader board. He is the state’s all-time leader in games, hits, home runs, RBIs and walks while ranking second in runs and doubles. It must reported in all truthfulness that this is primarily from the length of Lum’s career; his 1,517 games is greater than the total of the second and third players combined.

(Lum, like a couple of players on this list, wasn’t actually born in the state of Hawaii, but rather the territory that preceded it. But that’s close enough for me.)

Pitcher: Charlie Hough

Compared to the difficulty of finding players to fill some spots among the position players, Hawaii is a practically an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pitchers. Three of their four All-Stars—and four of five trips to the All-Star game—were made by pitchers. Hawaii has produced four pitchers who won 100 games or more and one, Hough, won 216. (The others with 100 or more wins are Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Milt Wilcox.)

Hough was a knuckleballer and, as is common with their type, pitched forever. He retired at age 47, reportedly complaining that his legs (rather than his arm) had failed him. Since his retirement, Hough has served as pitching coach for both the Dodgers and Mets and spent the past few seasons working in the Dodgers’ minor league system.

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“Sakata was apparently the Orioles’ emergency catcher”:  this was apparent to nobody except Orioles’ manager Joe Altobelli.  Sakata had never caught in his life, and was evidently flabbergasted when Altobelli told him to don catching gear.  Note that the O’s had other players playing out of position that inning due to aggressive pinch-hitting strategies in the prior inning:  OF Gary Roenicke was at third, and OF John Loewenstein was at second.  Upshaw’s single probably would have been fielded by a real second baseman.

Also, I’m pretty sure it was a three-run homer, not a two-run homer.

Jim G.
Jim G.

Never heard of Mike Lum!!!! How young are you?? grin

Despite his modest numbers (and talent), he was known as “The Hawaiian Punch,” much because of his lack of competition for the moniker. I remember him most with the Braves. He was a good pinch-hitter and basically a reserve player. He was a classic crowd-favorite bench player.

Richard Barbieri
Richard Barbieri

The Hawaiian Punch? That’s great. Hawaiians do have some quality nicknames, I’m a big fan of “Pineapple Express” for Victorino.

As for how young I am, let’s just say young enough that I never heard of Mike Lum and leave it at that.